「Looks Breed Love」
I’ve been looking forward to this week’s episode with a mix of hope and dread since Mahoutsukai no Yome started. When something makes the kind of impact that this arc did on me in manga form, there’s always a bit of trepidation that the anime won’t be able to rise to the challenge – and even after Mahoutsukai has spent the previous 13 episodes reassuring me, I couldn’t know for sure. Then there’s also the knowledge that you’re likely to experience that steam locomotive of emotion again, whether you’re ready for it or not.
I guess what I’m left with in the end is this – there was nothing I could have asked from this episode that it didn’t deliver. The Ancient Magus’ Bride has spent a cour taking what worked well in manga form and making it even better, and that includes the series’ best moments (of which this chapter is certainly one). It’s stories like this that cement the connection between this series and Natsume Yuujinchou (indeed, its premise could as easily have been transplanted with minimal alteration), yet the angle from which the two series approach such material is so tonally different. Profundity comes in many forms, I suppose.
As it sometimes does, Mahoutsukai used a cliffhanger as a fakeout this week. Last week’s episode ended with Ashen Eye transforming Chise into a fox, and indeed Elias refers to it as something of a curse – but the immediate crisis resolves itself rather quickly. The magic is passed on through a “were-pelt” – which gives form to the wishes of the wearer. And Chise feels the exhilaration of becoming a sure-footed creature of the forest (and of faerie), even noting that the other world is “calling her”. But so is Ruth, and so is Elias – and when the latter adds his voice to the chorus, Chise finds herself and realizes that the place she wants to be is at his side when he’s feeling cold and lonely.
Just exactly what the ageless Ashen Eye’s intentions were and what the lasting impact of his enchantment are is not made totally clear here, but there’s not a lot of time to dwell on it because almost as soon as Chise has returned home with Elias, Redcurrant appears in her room in tears, begging her to come to Joel Garland’s aid. And when she does, Chise finds the old man unconscious and unmoving, obviously very close to the end of his life. And with it will end one of the most unusual and impacting love stories in manga.
Love isn’t supposed to be part of the equation between a human and a Leanan sídhe, that much is clear (indeed, any love between humans and faerie/youkai seems destined for heartbreak). But only a fool would deny that love exists here. It’s more obvious on Redcurrant’s part of course, but it exists for Joel too – because it was that fleeting moment in the garden when his eyes met hers, all those years ago, that freed him from the “inertia” he’d felt since his wife’s death. Chise determines that the one thing she wants to do for these two – the one thing she can do – is to give Joel one more such moment before he dies. And in order to do that, she decides to make the fairy ointment that can give Joel that moment.
Mahoutsukai no Yome is one of those series where almost all events, no matter how compelling on their own terms, ultimately serve to cast light on the main relationship. This is a fascinating development for so many reasons, starting with the fact that Elias decides to let Chise have her head here despite the fact that using that ointment on humans (or even having one make it) is a terrible taboo. He knows the risks, surely (both from the faeries and Chise’s constitution), and it seems unlikely he feels much emotional connection to Joel and Redcurrant’s plight. But allow it he did, no doubt because he was pleased to se his puppy show so much forcefulness, to demand something simply because she wanted it so much.
Ultimately , though, this episode belongs to Joel and Redcurrant and their tragic fairy tale. It’s hard to say just why this story hit me so hard from the first time I read it, but it does – there’s something to elementally relatable about it. The kicker, really, is when Joel reveals that he’s known all along who and what the creature he saw in the garden was – and that she’s been at this side, invisible, ever since. And he feels nothing but gratitude towards her for giving his life meaning, and for allowing him to live the dream of being a writer, just a little. “Leanan sídhe, lover of poets“ yep, that’s what really did me in.
Redcurrant’s decision to stay and wait for Joel “till the end of time” is a fitting end to this story – but of course the larger one goes on, because there’s indeed a stiff price to be paid for the transgression Chise has committed. Oberon is the one to administer faerie justice, and despite his fool’s demeanor he’s no one to be trifled with. Part of the punishment, for starters, is the seeming destruction of the ring Angelica gave Chise to help protect her from absorbing too much magic – and the effect is immediate. Yes, it’s another of those cursed cliffhangers – but there’s no excuse not to be expecting them by now…